Learn the latest scams to be on the lookout for: Internet Scambusters #1,001
Last week, for our 1,000th edition, we described how scam trends have changed over the two decades of Scambusters reporting.
This week, we switch to "right now" mode. What are the biggest, latest scams and how can you spot them?
Read on for an update and an insight into the minds and schemes of the crooks.
Let's get started…
Latest Scams That Threaten YOU Right Now
Every day, scores, sometimes hundreds, of scam reports pass across our research desk.
The tide of misery is unrelenting. It's been like that since Scambusters launched more than two decades ago. And, as we reported in our 1,000th issue last week, many scams are just the latest version of long-running and well-tested con tricks.
Some of them are ingenious and many of them follow a pattern that relates to current issues -- like the pandemic -- or seasonal events such as this year's just-passed Valentine's Day.
With that in mind, here's a look at the top scams happening right now.
With tax reporting season in full swing, crooks have lined up a full collection of scams to catch out the unwary.
The IRS reports that crooks are using text, emails, and phones to trick people with messages and bogus links relating to returns and refunds.
This year, the agency says, there's a particular risk of unemployment fraud in which scammers file claims for benefits in the names of people whose identity has been stolen.
"States have experienced a surge in fraudulent unemployment claims filed by organized crime rings using stolen identities," says the IRS.
(See our recent report on this topic: Surge in Unemployment Insurance Scams Sparks Government Warning.
As we predicted, the growth of opportunities to jump aboard the fast-moving and poorly-regulated virtual currency marketplace has produced a scam surge this year.
One of the biggest scams active right now is an SMS text phishing trick targeting the world's biggest cybercurrency exchange, Binance. The messages claim there's been a withdrawal from the victim's account and offers them the chance to cancel the transaction.
They're taken to a phony sign-on page where their personal details are stolen and then used to drain the account.
This year, we're already seeing scams involving NFTs -- non-fungible tokens, a digital version of things like video clips and artworks. NFTs are the latest cyber craze but most people have no idea how they work. The result: According to one expert, 80 percent of NFTs are fakes!
There's no end to the list of scams perpetrated on social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
A favorite haunt for the crooks is Facebook's Marketplace, which members use to sell stuff locally.
A Scambusters team member, selling an item for cash, was asked last week if, instead, he would use the money transfer app Venmo (see below). When he declined, the scammer broke off contact.
But one of the biggest Marketplace tricks currently in operation is the shipping insurance scam. Crooks pretend to be buyers but demand that their target pays for insurance upfront, after offering a mouthwatering price for the item being sold. They pay but, of course, there's no sale.
Another big, new social media scam is a pyramid scheme in disguise. It's a "book exchange" scheme in which participants supposedly send out one book and get 36 back in return. Victims are also required to provide a list of other friends who enjoy reading. All will be targeted.
As with all pyramid schemes, early players get multiple books. Later joiners get none -- plus they've given away contact details for other potential victims.
Scammers impersonate utility company reps or law enforcement with threats of arrest and power supply cuts if they don't pay immediately. Or they pretend to be government officials offering loans and grants.
But the biggest offenders right now are fake technical support and call center reps, mostly based on the Indian sub-continent.
Earlier this month, two "white hat" (ethical) security hackers infiltrated camera systems at illegal call centers, showing scammers laughing as they fleeced their victims by gaining control of their PCs. In one case, they reduced their victim, an elderly man, to tears as they told him he would have to pay thousands of dollars.
A couple weeks ago, police raided a fake call center in India's Kapurbawdi township that allegedly targeted American citizens, taking in thousands of dollars every day.
Two years on from the outbreak of COVID, scammers have been stepping up their campaigns of false remedies, fake face masks, and more.
So far this year, phony testing programs have taken the spotlight. These are often run from vans that set up business near genuine testing stations. Visitors are asked to provide confidential information by filling in a form that may then be used for marketing or even identity theft. The perpetrators may go through a routine similar to testing but victims rarely, if ever, get the results.
Fake testing kits that simply don't work are also being sold online.
Have you noticed a big rise in the number of automated calls to both your cell phone and landline in recent weeks? Or, more importantly, an increased number of voicemails that you didn't even hear going through?
According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), these "ringless voicemails" are being used to try to get around existing bans on robocalls
Furthermore, they're not only a nuisance in themselves but they can also result in overflowing voicemail inboxes, so important legitimate callers may not be able to leave messages.
The FCC wants to ban these ringless messages or impose the same requirement for consumer consent that currently applies to other robocalls.
The popularity of mobile payment apps like Zelle, Venmo, and many others has attracted thousands of scammers and some clever ways to trick people into allowing access to their accounts or to simply fool them into transferring their money to the crooks.
Current scams include fake pet breeders demanding successive payments via Zelle for non-existent puppies and kittens; get-rich-quick schemes promoted in online videos ("send $500 and get $5,000 back by the end of the day"); and sales of supposed tech equipment at knock-down prices.
Money transfer scammers also impersonate victims' banks and, as we reported recently, persuade them to transfer money to themselves for security reasons. This scam is hot right now.
Reversing scam transactions can be difficult or, in some cases, impossible.
As we move toward the vacation months of spring and summer, expect to see a surge in travel scams and then, into fall, con tricks targeting new college students and a minefield of fake news as the mid-term elections approach.
There's no chance of con artists ever slowing down or of the Scambusters team seeing fewer scam reports every day. But stick with us -- and tell others -- and you'll be among the best-informed consumers about today's big risks.
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.